Back to it – 78

PhD Life

Back after the Easter break with a new low in motivation.

A few weeks ago I booked a machine for this week without paying any attention to the fact that I would not be able to come in and use it on Monday as it is a holiday. Because of this lack of foresight, I have had to extend my booking over the weekend so that I can fit all my samples in.

I am analysing sugars derived from Iceberg-lettuce over a time period of one month. In theory, as the leaves continue to metabolise, the sugars will decrease. From a scientific point of view, this might be a potential marker for senescence and degradation which is why I am monitoring it. For the number of samples I have I am expecting it to take around four days to run them all. To clean the machine and various components a day either side is required. Providing the machine doesn’t breakdown, which is relatively common with expensive scientific equipment in my experience; I should be done by Sunday.

This is how a PhD differs from a conventional job. There is no consistency in the hours of which you will work. It is one of those “when it’s done kind of an occupation”. It is a positive or negative depending on your perspective, and it is lifestyle factors such as this as to why many people drop-out. All the people I know who have dropped out of their studies have done it for reasons related to the lifestyle of the studentship rather than the difficulty of the subject matter. When I started, I had wrongly presumed that the complexity of the study would be the main reason for someone to stop their studies.

One task that I have thrown myself at this week is clearing out my “to read” folder. It is a folder full of papers that I think might be useful, but not helpful enough to read at the time of discovery. In the past, I would only read papers when I needed them for a reference, or if I did read them for general knowledge, I would not make notes.
About six months ago I got my act together on this and started taking and saving notes from papers I have read while archiving them in a reference generator.

I assume writers also have this problem when you’re gathering research for your piece.

How do you collect and organise your notes?

I use Zotero which is a free reference / archiving software. I chose this program because it runs on Linux, but I know many programs fulfil the same function, such as Mendeley, EndNote (which is the one my University recommends) and citethisforme.

Anyway, I have gone through and read about half of this folder, and feel quite good about it. I have finally got around to a chore I have been putting off all year, like throwing out all those clothes I no longer wear.

This advancement in the management of my notes and references is an example of advice I got at the start, which I then ignored and ended up enacting myself months later to my detriment. This happens a lot and is one of the main problems with advice. I remember someone who had just completed their PhD telling me to “write up papers as you go along, you won’t, but I recommend you do”. They were correct: I haven’t.

Advice is difficult to take and very easy to give. This is the main problem with advice as I see it. What other people should do is always crystal clear; it seems to be very easy to analyse anything other than your situation.

Perhaps this is the basis for Richard Feynman quote ‘The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool’.

Published by Louis

Spend less than you earn, Invest the surplus, avoid debt. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants

21 thoughts on “Back to it – 78

  1. I like this post because of the personal, concrete examples you provide. I’m a librarian and should be more consistent about using some type of software to track notes and sources. It could be invaluable for future essays or even blog posts. Thanks for the reminder.


  2. Great post. I think for the type of work you’re doing good methods for organizing your research are essential. You listed a couple of good examples. Trello is also a tool you might want to check out. As far as work goes, if you are finding satisfaction in what you’re doing and remains a subject you are passionate about then you just continue to take it a day at a time, realizing you can’t do it all in a day and doing the most important things first. Just my two cents…Blessings.


  3. It had never occurred to me there was software out there to assist in collating notes. I’ve only been blogging for a few weeks but am building up thoughts and references for future blogs and just storing them in Word. An interesting blog Louis but also hugely useful. Thanks


  4. I loved this perspective. I, too, thought that the most likely culprit for keeping someone from completing the doctoral work would be the difficulty of subject matter. Those of us not in pursuit of those goals have little understanding of the “lifestyle” it requires. As for advice, yeah, rarely is it applied at the best time. We apply it as soon as we realize we should have been applying it already. Human nature I suppose. Thanks for sharing this insight!


  5. It is hard to take advise. This is a great post and very detailed. I find that it is easier to take advise once you find your own way is lacking something. Weird but true. But no matter what it’s good to realized before its too late. Study on and good luck! 😁


  6. I have been doing a great deal of thinking about how I incorporate my reading into a more practical resource for creative ideas. When I was on the debate team I had a card box filled with relevant research that I could access and utilize in the debate. Little did I know it was the basis of Zettelkasten and Personal Knowledge Management (PKM). I have recently started using Trello to track some projects and came across an article on using it for PKM. I am still working out my process, but let me know if you are interested in some links.


  7. Wow — I just followed you back and this is a topic I’ve thought a bit about.

    I have grown to really like Bookends as a reference/source manager and reading list. As far as notes go, I sort of made my own hybrid of a file system and a note/project management system that links into various applications (because I’m a SE). I’ve been thinking about open-sourcing it.

    If you’re deeply interested in this sort of thing, I’d be interested to hear what your feature wish-list and requirements would be, from a researcher’s POV.


    1. I am very interested in SE! I have been making a page on github for the last few days. I am not deeply interested as I have tools that work, but I can think of some ways in which it could be improved! It relates to the input allowed to automatically generate references.


      1. That is awesome! and you like software. I didn’t mean to imply you had to be into that, but it’s interesting that you’re moving in that space. I was curious if you really wanted to nerd-out about your ideal organization method and workflow. Obviously, I don’t want to derail you, but if you had some strong wishes, that’d be really interesting to me. Organizing a lot of often disparate notes a problem I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time. But I haven’t done that in the formal academic context. So — what is your ideal?


  8. Lifestyle adjustments are definitely a thing I’ve seen in my science-PhD bound friends. The other one is they don’t quite get to pick the projects, necessarily. If I may ask, how much of a choice did you get for your project?

    (And this post has reminded me I really should get my act together for a better note taking system. I usually just highlight the passages that stand out, scribble an adjective or two about my opinions and move on.)


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